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Canuck Defencemen in Transition

The starting six on the back end seems to be set and now the focus can shift to figuring out what pairings make the most sense. As a group Canucks defencemen were below league average with their transition play and this will be something they will most certainly need to improve on. The additions of Myers and Benn should help.

Transition play for defencemen speaks more to their ability to create possession exits (out of their own zone) and limit possession entries against (into their own zone) so we’ll focus on that for now.

Possession exits represent instances when a defenceman carries the puck out themselves or makes a pass to a teammate resulting in the puck moving up ice. This is important as we know that pucks moving out and eventually into the offensive zone with possession lead to roughly twice as many goals. Exits that don’t count as possession exits are ones that are dumped out and turned over or go for icing.

Possession entries against represent instances when the opposition carries the puck into your zone with controlled possession. Limiting possession entries against can be done by forcing breakups around the blueline or forcing dump-ins. Keep in mind that breakups are the ideal outcome on defending entries since they result in offsides that halt the rush or turnovers that allow you to counterattack.

Let’s start by taking a look at how the guys on the left side fared over the last 3 years.

edler benn

Edler’s data may look less favourable that one would have guessed, but it’s important to note the games tracked sample size. We recognize that a 49 game sample size isn’t as much as we would like, but Corey Sznajder notes that defenders stabilize at the 20 game mark, so the data presented is still useful.

Benn’s data gives the opposite impression. For years now, Benn’s entry defence has been underrated and he definitely looks like a defenseman who is worth the $2M. We can see that unlike Edler, he forces a lot of breakups and dump-ins when teams try to carry the puck in on his side.

We don’t have a shot of data for Hughes, but this is one of the times that we can rely on the eye test to assume that he’s above average in his overall transition game based on what we’ve seen so far.

tanev myers

stech

The three on the right side have performed alright over the last 3 years. It should be noted that Tanev’s best year was the 2016/17 season and he hasn’t really been the same since. A massive drop off occurred in his 2017/18 season and he hasn’t really been able to recover.

tanev 2 years

Stecher has done the opposite and seems to continually round his transition game out. Lastly, Myers is a breakout machine but doesn’t fare as well in the entry defence breakups/60 category.

It was mentioned above that breakups are the ideal outcome for defending entries, and this chart by Sean Tierney nicely shows the group’s ability to force those breakups and create possession exits over the last year.

Controlling the blue line 2

Replacing the minutes from Pouliot, Gudbranson and Del Zotto with minutes from Hughes, Benn and Myers should improve the team’s ability to create and defend in transition. We may even see a group of six that’s above league average in possession zone exits next year. It will be interesting to see if Benn and Myers can keep up their possession exit percentage playing in a new system.

The breakup percentage could be more of a concern if Edler, Myers, Stecher and maybe even Hughes put up below average breakup percentages. If the percentage of possession entries against is too high as the season goes on, adjustments can be made by the forward group to be harder on the backcheck.

Considering all of this, let’s have some fun and build the pairings that could make the most out of their transition abilities. It’s fair to think that Green will want each pair to move the puck out well and decrease the likelihood of being hemmed in their zone for long stretches. The following 5 on 5 pairs may give them the best chances of doing so:

Edler – Stecher

Hughes – Tanev

Benn – Myers

These pairings would each feature an above average puck mover. It would also spread out those with best breakup percentages in Tanev, Benn and Stecher. Tanev regressing slightly more this year wouldn’t be a surprise, which could leave a Benn – Myers tandem as the best in possession exits. Having them take a good chunk of defensive zone starts to transition the puck up and out wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Based on the group’s numbers last year, Green has reason to be concerned about his back end controlling play in transition on both sides of the puck. Setting these pairs would be a good response to those concerns. With half of the group playing their first full year in Canuck sweaters, we will see a lot of mixing and matching to figure out who fits best with who, but this is a good place to start.



  • Tedchinook

    As has been suggested elsewhere I think Tanev’s numbers and his propensity to get injured might improve if time on ice is spread more evenly through the three pairings. Throw Fantenberg in as number 7 and this is a massive improvement on Gudbranson, Pouliot Del Zotto and Hutton.

  • truthseeker

    It’s just as possible that Tanev rebounds back to better numbers because he may actually be healthy to start the season. Why always assume the negative? I’m going to guess it’s because of that “age chart” that the stats people over rely on, but really either way is just as possible in this case. He’s still only 29 years old and even in that age decline chart the drop from mid twenties to 29 is virtually nothing.
    Basically either argument is unnecessary speculation that simple shouldn’t be in an unbiased article.

    • Defenceman Factory

      I agree with you about Tanev regressing further this year and he may actually have a modest rebound. He has missed a lot of games and come back as soon as able. If you can’t skate for weeks and jump back into the line-up you will be missing a step or two.

      That said the author, other than saying it wouldn’t be a surprise, didn’t make any argument that he believes Tanev will regress further.

    • IBT

      I agree with you on the age concept. It seems to be a convenient crutch for writers. It goes like this- 1st, We must get rid of vets and carry only youth. The unvarnished truth is that winning teams have less than one third younger players. – Defence take longer to develop, often taking until they are 25-26 to reach their potential. After that commentators feel like they can learn no more and are on the decline. if this is true think apprentice to journeyman, once you are a journeyman you continue to hone your skills. So a healthy Tanev with competent teammates should result in improved play.

  • J-Canuck

    I think a couple of guys numbers will be better this year.
    1. Edler.
    He will not have to be on the ice half the game as the past, so I expect his health and transition games to improve.
    2. Tanev
    If he isn’t traded, he will be like Eddy and benefit from being on the ice so much. Let’s face it, both Tanev and Eagle have been the Canucks only pairing the last 5 years and that takes its toll over a season. Spreading out minutes, will make those reduced minutes more effective.
    3. Meyers
    Depending on who his partner is his entry numbers should improve at least slightly. If you look at Tyler’s main partner in the Peg, Kulikov, his numbers are horrific. Paired with anyone else Tyler’s numbers go up. One of the missing pieces in this numbers driven analysis is who am I playing with. By playing regular minutes with a Benn would dramatically improve Tyler’s entry numbers. Playing with Quinn? That is a break explosion but who knows on entry?

  • ClassOf2011

    Yawnnn – not exactly a D-corp to rival that of San Jose, Calgary, Smashville or Arizona is it. McDavid, Draisatl, Matt Tkachuk, Johnny Hockey, E Kane, and mighty division rival Phil Kessel are just a few who are licking their lips over this lot guys.

    Indeed, as a noted professor of the game and thespian, I would liken it to Shakespeare… ‘Much ado about NOTHING!’

      • Tedchinook

        Oh yah, Kessel’s a terror. He’ll be 32 when the season starts and has been over 30 goals once in the last 5 years, playing with better players than he’ll be playing with in Arizona.

        • Defenceman Factory

          I think that hot dog swilling, over the hill dressing room cancer is bound to have a great year. This has to be true as Stephan and schmaltz are so much better than the centreman Kessel had to play with in Pittsburgh.

          • ClassOf2011

            Just look at the sour grapes delusion from these pathetic three stooges above.

            Yeah – Kessel is ‘over-the-hill’ …. a point-per-game 82 game player *last season*. Scored 34 goals and 94 points the season before. Played primarily on the second and third lines and hasn’t missed a game in NINE years… and has two Cup rings along the way. What a bum hahahaha, morons.

            You three chumps better go get some extra napkins to wipe off the drool from your ugly mugs because Phil Kessel is gonna be serving up double dogs with extra relish all season long under his svengali coach Tocchet in the Pacific. Off you go now, tail between legs hot-dog(g)ers.

          • ClassOf2011

            Don’t sweat it Beer. It’s actually a badge of honour to get marked down and slandered by these no-life clowns because they hate the truth… and this place is all they got all year longggggggg.

            What the cheerleading whiners fail to see is that THEY are the weakest link here and need to be flushed like the t(u)rds they are.

            REAL fans like us Beer love their team and therefore hold management accountable for their years of lies, ineptitude and inability to WIN and deliver playoff hockey as consistently promised by this redundant, dysfunctional loser Benning charade.

            Trolls and #fakenews cheerleaders write utter contradictory garbage *pretending* that everything is just fine and dandy as the losing seasons continue on and on. These sad-sacks are actually insulting the real fans of the Vancouver Canucks with their lies, abuse and lame excuses.

            Remember Beer, consistent losing, abusing real fans and making poor excuses for failure is not an option… unless you are a #fakenews cheerleader troll. #flushthet(u)rds

    • IBT

      You have to admit it is a big improvement over last years corps although all those offensive dynamo’s mentioned are just a year older. Should translate to a better outcome.

    • J-Canuck

      Someone has a crush on “Fat Elvis” Kessel. Actually he is looking more like Don Cherry than Fat Elvis these days.
      Arizona is a place players go cash a check and play golf before practice. Retirement home for active players

  • Kanuckhotep

    Totally agree with Michael’s D pairings, the same ones I’ve had in mind this summer. One thing I’d like to see from the blueline corps this year is to not get trapped in their own zone for eons at a time like what has happened a lot in the last few seasons. Perhaps a new look defence will change all that and have the opposition chase the Canucks around as opposed to the other way around. Should be better to watch next season.